Hardest Hike in Each State of the US - Part 2Published on 06/22/2023 · 13 min readFrom rock formations to alpine lakes to high peaks, these trails will physically push you.
Photo by Clay Knight
Interested in some more challenges? Add these trails to your bucket list. From rock formations to alpine lakes to high peaks, these trails will physically push you. The views and satisfaction and sense of achievement are more than worth the tired feet and sore muscles. Bring a beer along, or some hot chocolate or tea, and enjoy.
Montana: The Garden Wall
The Garden Wall trail is beautifully located in Glacier National Park, Montana. Roughly 15 miles round trip with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain, this hike is definitely strenuous. Head here from April to October, but not later—you don’t want to be here in winter. You will see epic scenery, beautiful alpine lakes, and wildlife galore - definitely one of the best hikes in the United States that sees plenty of visitors every year.
Nebraska: Rock Bluff Run Trail
Located near Falls City, Nebraska, the Rock Bluff Run Trail is rated as difficult and features a thriving river. You will hike up almost 1,200 feet of elevation gain over six miles of gorgeous terrain. I recommend heading here in the springtime when everything is in full bloom. The amount of greenery is insane and makes for one of the pretties day hikes in the area!
Nevada: Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail
Is there anything better than hiking to a hot spring? I doubt it. The Gold Strike Hot Springs hike near Boulder City, Nevada, is arduous, with a six mile trail that takes you up almost 1,500 feet of gain. But the reward—soaking in a hot spring—is totally worth it. The best time to hike this is October through May.
New Hampshire: Little Haystack via Falling Waters Trail
The five miles and 3,000 feet of elevation make the Little Haystack via Falling Waters Trail near Lincoln, New Hampshire, difficult to say the least. The waterfalls at the end make the trip worth it. This is a popular trail for hiking and snow-shoeing, so if you are looking for a lightly-trafficked trail, this is not the one for you. Make sure to bring microspikes for ice to ensure you stay safe! If you do head out in the wintertime, enjoy the winter wonderland scene and make sure to ask your hiking buddy if they want to stop and build a snowman.
New Jersey: Mount Tammany via Blue Dot Trail
There are a few ways to head up to Mount Tammany near Hardwick Township, New Jersey, with the Blue Dot Trail being my favorite. I lived in New Jersey for a small bit of time, and hiking here was by far one of my favorite ways to escape the city. This is a shorter hike at around four miles with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, and the views will leave you breathless. The Stairway to Heaven is another awesome trail to check out if you've got extra time to explore.
New Mexico: Lake Katherine via Winsor Trail
The 14 miles and over 3,000 feet of elevation gain at Lake Katherine via Winsor Trail in Terrero, New Mexico, will surely tire you out. The hike up can be steep, with ice covering parts of the trail all year round. This trail will take you up, down, around, and, of course, there is some minor scrambling toward the end. I’ve heard that the chipmunks up there will steal your socks and the mountain goats snore. Bring some ear plugs if you are camping out.
New York: Ampersand Mountain Trail
With just under 2,000 feet of gain spanning across almost five miles of scenic terrain, the Ampersand Mountain Trail in Franklin County, New York, has magic to offer. Wildflowers, rock formations (read: lots of scrambling on the way), and gorgeous views are only some of the things you will see. I recommend bringing along your microspikes—it can get pretty slippery in colder seasons. The 360-degree view of the land around the peak will make this trail worth it and put a smile on your face. The Devil's Path trail in the Catskill Mountains is another tough hike worth checking out while you're in the state, as is Mount Mercy, the tallest peak in New York!
North Carolina: Mount Mitchell Trail
Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is the highest peak in the Black Mountain Range that is east of the Mississippi River. Getting to the peak is challenging to say the least—the 11 miles and almost 4,000 feet of gain will surely tire you out (I haven’t even done it and I’m tired reading about it!). When you do manage to get to the peak, there is an additional three-mile hike you can do to Mount Craig via the Deep Gap Trail, or you can head back down the mountain. However, if you are already up there—you might as well! Mount Craig is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
North Dakota: Buckhorn Trail
The Buckhorn Trail is situated nicely in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Watford City, North Dakota. An offline map is highly recommended for this trail to make sure you stay on the correct path and don’t get lost—which is easy to do here. Try to avoid heading here after rainfall as the path can get muddy, slippery, and dangerous. This is a lightly-trafficked trail so if you are looking to get away from people, this is the spot for you. Keep an eye out for the prairie dogs! This trail is around 12 miles and has 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Ohio: Ash Cave, Cedar Falls and Old Mans Cave
In case the name of this trail is not clear enough, you will see caves and falls! The Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and Old Mans Cave Trail in Logan, Ohio, is a very popular trail due to the scenery. It will take you over 1,200 feet of elevation gain and 12 miles of epic beauty. You can choose to add a half-mile hike to Whispering Cave if the two caves on this trail leave you wanting more!
Oklahoma: Horse Thief Spring Trail
Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma has a lot to offer, including the Horse Thief Spring Trail. The goal here is to steal someone else’s horse—just kidding, please don’t do that. This hike will start from Cedar Lake State Park and go up through the Winding Stairs Mountains to Horse Thief Spring. With just under 2,000 feet of gain across 13 miles, this hike will leave you out of breath.
Oregon: South Sister Trail
The famous Three Sister Chain in Oregon consists of three mountains, with the South Sister being the tallest. To hike this trail, you will head over 12 miles of terrain and almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain, so be prepared to get sweaty. It is known for being steep, slippery, and offering the best sunrise you will see. If you bring your dog, make sure to carry extra water and keep them on a leash.
Pennsylvania: Hawk Mountain Loop
Head to the Hawk Mountain Loop in Kempton, Pennsylvania, for your next challenge if you need a wake-up call and some major humbling moments. Over 1,000 feet of gain across more than five miles will leave your feet tired. The scrambling is difficult, if not even scary. Be sure to check if the trail is closed for hunting season. Don’t forget to stretch a lot after this hike, or you will be sorer than if you hadn’t.
Rhode Island: Mount Tom Trail
If you hike the Mount Tom Trail in Exeter, Rhode Island, wear orange and be aware of hunting season—this trail is popular not just for hikers! If you are looking for an easier challenge, then these seven miles of beautiful views will get the job done. Over 600 feet of gain, you will see interesting rock formations, streams, and if you are lucky, some wild mushrooms growing.
South Carolina: Pinnacle Mountain Trail
Located in Table Rock State Park, South Carolina, the Pinnacle Mountain Trail covers over eight miles of land with 2,335 feet of elevation gain. One of the more popular hiking destinations, this hike features small waterfalls, streams, and gorgeous, lush trees depending on the time of year. Make sure to stop at the Bald Rock Overlook for some beautiful views. It is also a great stop to take some photos.
South Dakota: Sunday Gulch Trail
Custer State Park, South Dakota, is home to Sunday Gulch Trail, a short and sweet, four-mile loop with 800 feet of elevation gain. The first section down is rocky and steep, so make sure to use the handrails. Once you make it down, you will hike along a creek with interesting rock formations.
Tennessee: Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte
Rated as one of the top hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte has beautiful stops along the way: Arch Rock, a geological landmark and inspiration point, and, of course, views of epic terrain and scenery. Make sure to take a pit stop at the waterfall. The ten miles and almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain will tire you out, but the views are always worth it. This hike is in the most visited national park in the country so spend some time in the area and see what all the fuss is about!
Texas: Guadalupe Peak Texas Highpoint Trail
The Guadalupe Peak Texas Highpoint Trail has nine miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and so much more! This trail is arduous and can take up to eight hours. Thankfully (or not), the steepest section is within the first mile and a half, but it won’t get too much easier. You will eventually pass a small pine forest and come to what looks like a summit. Keep going! The actual summit is a mile away. The South Rim trail is another notable, though easier, hike to check out while you're in Texas!
Utah: Angels Landing Trail
No Utah adventure is complete without a trip to Angels Landing in Zion National Park. It is arguably the most popular and most dangerous hike in the state. There are over 1,600 feet of gain across five miles, steep canyon drop-offs, narrow paths with steel cables overlooking massive cliffs, and a section of 21 switchbacks. Keep in mind that you will run into many other hikers. And of course, don’t stand near an exposed rim or any ridges - this is an epic wilderness trek that can be dangerous, too! While you're at it, grab a permit from the National Park Service and check out the Maze in Canyonlands National Park, venture off to Arizona and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park for incredible landscape views, or the Bright Angel Trails, too! Heck, you may as well get over to Colorado while you're at it. Part One of our Tough Hike series has all the info you'll need if you're wanting to push yourself in a nearby state that is famous for its tough hiking trails too!
Vermont: Camel’s Hump Trail
If the name of Vermont’s Camel’s Hump Trail doesn’t entice you enough, then maybe six miles and 2,500 feet of gain from the trailhead will? No? How about a summit with impeccable views in every direction? This is the third highest peak in the state (read: if you are afraid of heights this is not the hike for you). Yet another state that claims part ownership of the Appalachian Trail - Vermont is home to many amazing hikes!
Virginia: Old Rag Mountain Loop
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of the best places to hike peaks on the East Coast, the Old Rag Mountain Loop Trail included. Best hiked from May until October, this nine-mile hike boasts over 2,500 feet of elevation gain and is truly a challenge. The last quarter of the hike is mostly scrambling, so make sure to slow your pace and enjoy the experience. Whenever you think you’ve reached a summit, think again. This mountain has multiple false summits—so just keep heading up. After this long hike, take it easy the next few days and explore the three trails of Great Falls Park (Swamp, Ridge, and River). The Potomac River builds up speed and falls over countless steep, sharp rocks - it's a beautiful sight!
Washington: Mount Si Trail
Does 3,300 feet of elevation gain across seven miles feel like a challenge? Yes, yes it does. Head to Washington’s Mount Si Trail from April to November to see beautiful wildflowers, doggo friends running up (dragging their human behind), and a bear or two if you’re lucky (or not lucky). The very top can get slippery if wet, so avoid going after rainfall. Make sure you bring a Discover Pass along and consider the options for preventing altitude sickness before you go. It's also smart to be on the lookout for lightning at these higher elevations, too. At first sight of storm clouds, be prepared to make a quick descent to avoid danger. While you're in Washington, be sure to check out the many incredible hikes at Mount Rainier National Park, too!
West Virginia: Maryland Heights Loop
A roaring river, 6.5 miles, over 1,500 feet of gain, multiple overlooks, Civil War fortifications, moderate climb—do I need to say more to convince you to add West Virginia’s Maryland Heights Loop to your bucket list? Learn about Civil War history, enjoy the scenic terrain, and keep an eye out for ammunition pits and gun batteries.
Wisconsin: Ice Age National Scenic Trail - Devil’s Lake Section
Over 14 miles and almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain in Wisconsin’s Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Devil’s Lake Section, will tire you out. But instead of taking a nap at the top, grab your swimming gear and think about dipping your toes in the lake! Head here in the spring for lush greenery and a lake oh-so blue, or go in the fall for some epic fall foliage. Regardless, enjoy the challenge!
Wyoming: Delta Lake via Lupine Meadows Access
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, is one of the most spectacular in all of North America. It has so much to offer, and this trail is only one of them! Nine miles, 2,300 feet of elevation gain, and scenic panoramic views—need I say more? The Delta Lake via Lupine Meadows Access trail is an out-and-back trek that features a lake. Keep in mind that this backcountry trail is not official and not maintained. You will have to navigate fallen trees, scramble over boulders, and steep, loose dirt paths. Also, look out for any vegetation under your feet and maybe a grizzly bear or two! Wyoming is also home to the Devils Tower National Monument - an iconic formation that is not to be missed and the Cascade Canyon trail, which is also located in Grand Teton National Park.
So, if you need a new challenge or an excuse for a fun trip, head to one or all of these tough, long trails and go hike! And in case you missed it, here is Part One of this series, covering the toughest hikes in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Kentucky! Don’t forget your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bring extra water in your backpack, put on sunscreen, and tie those boots tight. Whatever you do, get outside and enjoy the beauty of this planet we have. And lastly, talk to a Camping & Hiking Expert and tell us about the hardest hike you have ever done. Let’s chat about all things outdoors.